August: Mickey Mantle
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate, the gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punished the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and forth generations.” –Exodus 34: 6-7
When I was a kid Willie Mays was always my favorite, but there is no question that Mickey Mantle was a great center fielder. The Mick was never a good as he could have been. You see, his father had died young of Hodgkin’s disease, as did his grandfather. Mickey thought it was his destiny to die young. He thought it was in his DNA. So Mickey Mantle vowed that he was not going to get cheated out of all the hedonistic pleasures life had to offer. He stayed out late, drank heavily, and cheated on his wife.
He and his wife, Merlyn, had four boys: Mickey, Jr., David, Billy, and Danny. Mickey loved his boys, but he was on the road a lot and when he was home he was out a lot. He was not a good role model for his sons.
So no one should be surprised that his boys followed in their father’s footsteps. All became alcoholics. Two of them died young. Billy died at age 36 in 1994 of heart problems brought about by substance abuse. Mickey, Jr. died at age 47 of liver disease.
By the time Mickey was in his mid fifties, he was a physical wreck. Years of hard living and alcohol abuse had taken their toll. In 1994 he checked into the Betty Ford Clinic. They helped him with his alcoholism, but it was too late for his liver. He got a transplant, but there was just too much cancer.
The irony is that Mickey assumed he would die young because dying young was in his gene’s. What he did not know when he decided to pursue a life of debauchery thinking he was going to die young anyway was that his grandfather and father died young because of the zinc and lead dust they had inhaled while working in the mines in Kansas, not because of anything genetic.
Mickey Mantle would want this story told. Years before he died, he publicly admitted that he had made a mess of things and ruined it for his family. Also, his former teammate, Bobby Richardson, had become a Baptist pastor. He had many conversations with Mickey about spiritual things and one day Mickey gave his heart to the Lord. His testimony always included a warning to dads about the dangers of being poor role models for their children. Mickey Mantle died on August 13, 1995.